Day 134: In The Midnight Hour, 2/4/70

Grateful Dead Download Series family dog album cover artwork

From Otis Redding to Wilson Pickett, Pigpen sure knew how to pick a Soul/R&B cover. In The Midnight Hour is just a great song, period.

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Although these songs could be a bit rough around the edges in the hands of the Grateful Dead they often made up for the lack of precision with raw power. On the one hand I miss a lot of these songs from the live sets after Pigpen’s demise because they are such great songs (e.g. Hard To Handle, Midnight Hour, etc.). At the same time, I don’t think they would have been as good without Pig leading the charge. For my money, Good Lovin’ and Lovelight are two good examples of this. Bobby did the songs justice, but I don’t think his versions are as good as what Pig could lay down.

However, the Dead didn’t play this song a ton even when Pig was in the band. The last time Pig drove the bus on this one was the band’s last night at Fillmore East (4/29/71). It came back a few times in the 80s, and six more times after Brent died. (There are at least 43 known performances of the tune.) Even though it’s a rarer tune, I still prefer the Pigpen versions.

A classic R&B vibe takes over the band. Bobby and Jerry both hit those trebly, staccato chords that are so emblematic of the genre. There’s a bit of a train wreck early on, but everyone recovers and Pigpen continues to preach the gospel of R&B. Phil, Bobby, and Jerry all provide backing vocals as they vamp over the chorus and Pig raps a little bit. The vamp continues and it seems like not everyone is on the same page, particularly Bobby. Is it just me or does it sound like he’s playing through changes that others aren’t? Jerry picks up the pace a bit and the drummers shuffle the beat a bit more, but everyone returns to the main groove after a few measures. The playing continues to be a bit sloppy here as they go back into the normal verse/chorus territory. A little extra pizzaz and it’s on to the next tune.

Complete Setlist 2/4/70

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  1. Right on, Lunchbox, raw power is a good way to describe the Dead’s approach to those R&B songs you mention. This song is my kind of Pigpen, strong, fun and not too heavy on the rap although there is a little.
    On the other hand, I prefer Bobby’s later versions of Lovelight and Good Lovin’ to Pig’s. That may be sacrilege to some but those were fun, rocking show stoppers in the later years and very well played. There is definitely an edge to the Pigpen versions, but the long raps and the repetition can be a bit much for my taste (although not always). I should add that I’m not a big fan of Bobby’s early attempts at Lovelight, when he tried to rap, and that I was always disappointed to hear Good Lovin’ come out of Bertha even though I love that era ( I guess I just strongly prefer the Bertha GSET combo and don’t particularly like the intro to Good Lovin’ in that era).
    Oddly enough, I really enjoy the studio version of Good Lovin’ on Shakedown Street.

    • Lovelight is a bit tricky. I like the tighter versions of the later years, sans the Pigpen raps, but I prefer Pig’s energy on the rest of the song. For the most part I can leave the raps, at least the really long ones, but his energy on these songs was so infectious that I tend to prefer them.

      As far as Good Lovin’ I just prefer the older arrangement. However, I do really like the Bertha > Good Lovin’ segue when that started popping up in the late 70s. When they nailed the transition on that one it was sublime.

      As for the studio version, I like the bonus track with Lowell George on vocals. I think that’s even better than the one with Bobby singing lead.

  2. My experience with the GD playing this tune is definitely colored by the first show I got to see them play it…4/8/85 at the Philly Spectrum. A strong version, followed by an awesome Jerry two-fer of Walkin’ The Dog [PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW!!!] and Big Boss Man. Wooo! Definitely check that out if you haven’t already.

    BTW, there’s pro-shot video of 3 songs from this night at the Family Dog: Hard to Handle & China -> Rider. The DVD also has pieces of Santana’s set that night as well as Jefferson Airplane, plus a “super jam” at the end. Essential viewing, IMO. I think only the Hard to Handle was on “Backstage Pass”.

    I’ll agree that Bobby’s versions of Good Lovin’ lacked the vocal punch of Pig’s, and thought it was funny that Lowell topped Bobby on that studio outtake. If only he’d played some slide in there, but I’ll take a re-emergence of Jerry on pedal steel (I assume) as consolation!

    • Very cool. Thanks for the video heads up, and welcome to the comments section! I appreciate your thoughtful commentary and hope you continue to contribute as we move along. Cheers!

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